Amongst Other Things, Useful Buying

We have reached the stage in Mauritius where often we receive gifts which are duplicates of what we already have, or add to our existing stock of similar things and therefore are superfluous.

But it’s not only gifts we receive; there is also compulsive buying that we do for ourselves especially around the festive occasions, landing us with objects which we may not have required in the first place. But the logic seems to be that it’s the time to buy, so let’s!

A few days before Christmas a fellow walker at Trou-O-Cerfs told me that we must all practise ‘useful buying,’ and by coincidence the same day almost I read an article in the French magazine Le Point about Christmas gifts. In fact a survey had been carried out among a representative sample, and its main finding was that 6 out of every 10 Frenchmen sell their Christmas gifts. That’s a lot I thought. Next issue was whose gifts and to whom? Obviously gifts from those deemed distant from a relational point of view were the first to go, but even gifts from close ones were not spared, although the percentage was much lower. I do not know whether selling one’s gifts is practised in Mauritius, but that would be a sad day indeed!

So the remark of my friend became particularly pertinent, and we had some reflections about the topic. Of course it’s a nice feeling to receive a gift, and the reciprocation too is valued for it strengthens the bonds of friendship or whatever relationship exists. Once a decision is taken to offer a gift, the assumption is that we have some knowledge about the intended recipient’s circumstances or tastes, and these then should guide our choice. Personally I think that giving a gift for the sake of giving, not taking into consideration this fact is a disservice to the person.

When it comes to children it’s of course easier. If one is in a doubt, or of limited means, perhaps the best option is to give a certain sum of money to the parent who knows best what the child needs. A person of modest means whom I know did that for her few-months old grandchild; since she could only afford a small sum that would on its own not be sufficient to buy anything substantial, she gave it to her daughter with the idea that the latter could top up – even if not immediately – and get her child what was genuinely required. Very sensible indeed, one must say.

To be meaningful or appreciated, gifts need not necessarily be expensive: there is no use to try and keep up with the Joneses when it comes to exchanging gifts, although there are expectations according to the social status or profession of those involved. Among friends and family the showing off can be dispensed with; it is the thought and the sharing which are more appreciated, and the warmth this gives rise to outdoes by far any consideration of pecuniary worth.

A personal example that is very dear to me was a birthday gift I received from my son when I reached 60 years of age. It was a copy of the September 1961 issue of the Scientific American which was devoted to the cell, containing articles by frontline pioneers about research into all aspects of the structure and function of the cell. It was perhaps the first such thematic issue of Scientific American, to highlight the importance of the cell as the fundamental unit of life – as it was then defined by my biology teachers Karl Mulnier and Noel Assarapin.

I had read the journal in the RCC library and subsequently got a copy of my own which I left at home when I proceeded for my medical studies in 1965. Somehow it was lost, and over the years I was so busy with building career and home that I did not pay too much attention to that. When I picked up the threads of modern biology again, that issue came to mind. And then my son went to study in the USA, and he had known about my keenness to get a copy of what was to me a real treasure.

He managed to trace one down to a small library in California, and bought it for 10 USD, practically a throwaway price for such a vintage piece! And when he offered it to me, asking me first to keep my eyes closed, my joy on opening them was matched by his too, completed by a huge hug with tears in my eyes, inevitable! To this day my eyes light up in wonder when I go through those articles which I have read time and again, so vital have they been in my thinking and development.

Many of us must have similar memories and experiences that add up to being our support and succour in old age, although we well know that one day we will leave all behind and go away empty-handed. But while life lasts and in our later years these little things keep us ticking.

With useful buying must also be associated prudent consumption. This must be so at all times of the year, but special caution is mandatory at this time of merry-making to avoid getting into excesses of food and drinks of all kinds. So said, no more moralizing but Happy New Year to all and let’s look forward to a year of peace and tranquility in our lives.

See you all next year!


* Published in print edition on 27 December 2013

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